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Sky River Casino

Indian casinos. Is that an oxymoron? I guess I wish it was an oxymoron. But what do I know about Indian affairs, the affairs of Indians?

The Sky River Indian Casino on Highway 99 South in Elk Grove just south of Sacramento. Got a friend who has to play roulette. I can do without any of it, but my friend and I had just come from almost 3,000 miles together through Nevada, Idaho, Montana and North and South Dakota, Wyoming and Utah, without incident, with my friend's required stop in the Indian casino on the Wind River Reservation in Lander, Wyoming (Shoshone and Arapaho and Sacajawea). So I can't and won't object to a day trip to the Sky River Indian casino for roulette.

Ever been on a reservation, on the rez? Not so good. I've been on the Pine Ridge (Wounded Knee), Mikasoukee in Florida and the Wind River Reservation. All rough around the edges and centers, meaning we are both wondering where and what all the casino money actually goes to. But I am a white man trying to fathom the native world.

The Sky River Casino has replaced a failed shopping mall. I guess some suburbian Elk Grove just didn't explode fast enough. I would pass that abandoned mall on my way south to Los Angeles.

Wilton Rancheria tribe. Long way from the pre-gold rush world of the California natives.

The old and the crippled stand out. Asians, Mexicans, rednecks, hacky sackers, makeup, sporty hombres. Vast is the first impression, parking lots like airports. Sterile is the second impression, just some shopping mall cement blocks turned casino. It's a Tuesday afternoon and the parking lot quadrant we are in is filling up.

Vast interior, oases of bars and televised sports — what's it like on the weekends, plenty of folks on a Tuesday afternoon, all types of casino employees prowling the gaming floor, checking on things, lots of Asian/Americans staffing the tables. Why do I mention that? Is there an actual cliche reality to Asians and gambling? Young ladies with trays of drinks, red carpeted gauche, seen one, seen them all. Vegas of course. Just more bells and whistles. Not a native in sight.

Losers, throwing their money away in hopes of the big payday. I feel ashamed for the tribes and the human race. No separation in here from the blaring slots and the pool table green blackjack and roulette tables, some dignity, some James Bondy flavor here — should be a separate room at least. My friend seated at the roulette table. I have no idea how it works, but he's a man of numbers and gadgets and is intent on beating the house. I sit and twiddle my indifferent indignation, groups of gamblers doing selfie photos of each other. They can smoke. I kind of like that, gives the plush carpeted place some sense of atmospheric history.

There is no mystery. My friend lost $165 of his $200 grub stake. Of course, there are steaks and prime rib and the like, like dining in an airline terminal. I guess there is the requisite buffet, but we ain't stickin' around long enough to find out. Out into the better hair.

Epilogue: Propositions 26 and 27 were on last November's statewide ballot: legalizing sports betting. Should we break some of the tribes' monopoly on legal sports betting or divide up the spoils among other tribes? No and no on both — no legal sports betting period? Surprising. How we have come to natives and betting on sports is anyone's guess. Certainly not mine.


  1. izzy January 31, 2023

    It was an ominous sign for our cultural trajectory when the state lottery was introduced, ostensibly to finance education. A few years later Indian Casinos got the nod, and underscored the approaching economic and ethical morass we now find ourselves in. There used to be laws against this kind of stuff, for good reason. The pursuit of vice as opportunity is not a marker of a healthy society.

  2. Franklin February 1, 2023

    You obviously wouldn’t know a CA Native if they punched you in the face. If you wish to gawk at Natives then go to a gathering not one of our businesses.

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